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By David Finkelstein | January 10, 2002

John, a young heroin addict, receives a fatal overdose from his companions, who abandon him to die in an alley outside of a New York club. As he lies dying, he has visions of two spiritual beings who are struggling for possession of his soul. Heroine, the spirit of his addiction, is a kind of sassy rocker-chick who urges him to forget everything and sink into oblivion. Suriel, an icily remote female deity, tries to encourage John to use his death as a doorway to greater awareness. John’s visions also include occasional comments from a whiskey-drinking, snake-handling televangelist. The story is punctuated by occasional techno songs in which the characters Suriel and John express their thoughts, during which the movie morphs seamlessly into a music video style. Much of the dialogue and concepts of the film come from the book of Revelations and the Gospel according to Thomas.

This film contains the seed of a good idea. Given the generally psychedelic style of music videos, a film which integrates techno music into a larger story which consists mostly of an extended hallucination sequence has the potential to blend the songs into the larger story in a way that makes more sense than most movie musicals have been able to do recently. However, for such a film to work for me, it would need to have at least one of the following: a believable character, an emotional conflict which makes sense, some complex and interesting ideas, an original or beautiful visual style, or good music. Unfortunately, “Abaddon” has none of these things.

We never learn anything about the character John, so we can’t relate his inner conflict to anything we have seen or felt. The two spirits do not have any particular characteristics, which would reveal to us something about John’s psyche. Although the script uses material from some fairly weighty sources, it does not have any profound or original ideas. An odd property of this film is that it has a strongly anti-drug message, comparing heroin addiction to the Apocalypse, yet the entire visual and aural sensibility of the movie is that of a trippy hallucination which could probably only be enjoyed if one were very stoned. The dialogue is both overly literary, with its constant biblical quotations, and illiterate, containing no expressive, original writing.

The visual language also consists entirely of clichés. “When in doubt, add a Light Blast effect,” seems to be the guiding principle. The effects themselves are realized without style, finesse, or skill. The music is draggy and lifeless, without the propulsive physicality of good dance music or the expressiveness needed to help tell a story. The actors are all talented, and do a decent job with their impossible roles. Oddly, the character of Suriel, who is supposed to be the one fighting against John’s addiction, is portrayed by Renae Van Duyn exactly the way I would imagine the female embodiment of heroin: icy, remote, and affectless.

Given the universal relevance of the story, that is, a person trying to decide what the meaning of his life is during its final hour, it is amazing to me that Theodotou has created a movie without a single believable or affecting moment. One other thing: the lip-synch was off during the entire film, including the part in the very beginning before John takes the drugs. I had no way of knowing if this was an intentional effect or mere technical incompetence.

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